Staff Editorial on New Dress Code Policy


Is there such thing as a ‘perfect’ dress code policy?

Georgetown Day School’s Bobby Asher says that in an ideal world, the dress code would be “a community conversation that involves significant output from kids.” Perhaps, then, the fault in Wilson’s dress code is that it is not a conversation. Students were angered by the increased enforcement in large part because it was a surprise; the majority of the student body was never involved in any form of discourse with the administration.

Wilson students represent a range of diverse backgrounds, each of which has its own distinct and valuable opinion. Instead of the administration deciding what offends or distracts us, maybe it’s time for Wilson students to speak for themselves. After all, no one knows more about what is disrespectful or distracting to different cultures and groups of people than the students that belong to them. At the end of the day, students are the only ones responsible for what they wear.

As high schoolers, we’re in a pivotal moment in our lives, where we’re beginning to define ourselves through the choices we make– choices, perhaps, as simple as what we wear to school every day. Clothing is one of the many mediums we use to express ourselves, and it’s an important one. The gray area that comes with restricting this right is akin to restricting the right to speech: where do we draw the line between our right to dress how we want as individuals and the right of those around us to feel safe and comfortable at school?

This question can’t be answered with a few pieces of paper from the administration, no matter how good their intentions. The best way to get us to comply with the dress code isn’t to punish–it’s to demonstrate why the dress code matters, and the only way to do that is to hear from the students who it affects most. Most Wilson students would be more likely to wear clothing that was dress-code appropriate if they knew who they actually were offending, or what the arguments are for dress code rules, and that requires a conversation not just between students and administration, but between students and other students.

The slogan “dress for success” follows Wilson students everywhere, starting on day one at freshman orientation. It seems as if it is the school’s easy way of explaining the purpose of the dress code, and what students should wear. It’s not complicated, kids — just dress for success!

The implications of this simple phrase are much broader though. It implies that students who dress a certain way will not be able to succeed. It implies that if you don’t dress the way the school deems appropriate, you aren’t professional, and you won’t be able to get a job. This is not true though; in the future, some Wilson alumni will wear uniforms to work, others will have to wear suits and ties every day, and some will work for themselves and be able to decide what they wear. The idea of “dressing for success” is not enough to explain what students can wear, or why they should.

In a realistic world, there’s probably no such thing as a perfect dress code. Mandating what students wear creates divides–however unintentional–between ethnic groups, religions, and genders. Restricting the length of shorts out of respect for conservative dressers is viewed as demeaning by the girls who are targeted most.

Telling one group that they can wear their culture’s traditional clothing while another group cannot will inevitably be found offensive. Even in a world where Wilson’s dress code was a conversation and every opinion had the chance to be heard, it’s unrealistic to think that every opinion would be manifested in the dress code policy, or would carry equal weight. But a conversation is a start. It’s a step in the right direction, and maybe it’s as close as we’re going to get.

The Beacon Editorial Staff

As appeared in the August 27 issue of The Beacon